The destruction of Mecca

mecca picture

 

Ziauddin Sardar shared his thought about ‘the destruction of Mecca’ – the time when skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels, and extravagantly built high-rises begin to ‘invade’ the Sacred Mosque’s surroundings, making it look infinitesimally tiny compared to the hawkish, self-serving, and megalomaniac structures around the vicinity, and the pilgrimage itself, or hajj, to gradually lose its authentic, spiritual meaning.

Read his piece in The New York Times, and think deeper.

 

Excerpt:

 

The dominant architectural site in the city is not the Sacred Mosque, where the Kaaba, the symbolic focus of Muslims everywhere, is. It is the obnoxious Makkah Royal Clock Tower hotel, which, at 1,972 feet, is among the world’s tallest buildings. It is part of a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels catering to the superrich. The skyline is no longer dominated by the rugged outline of encircling peaks. Ancient mountains have been flattened. The city is now surrounded by the brutalism of rectangular steel and concrete structures — an amalgam of Disneyland and Las Vegas.

The Exacting, Expansive Mind of Christopher Nolan

nolan

As Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, ‘Interstellar’, will soon be released this week, let us have a brief look at the biography of this filmmaker in The New York Times.

Excerpt:

Nolan’s movies require this thick quotient of reality to support his looping plots, which accelerate in shifting time signatures, consume themselves in recursive intrigue and advance formidable and enchanting problems of interpretation. “Memento,” the Sundance favorite that brought him instant acclaim at age 30, is a noir thriller with the chronology of reverse-spliced helix. “Insomnia,” the only one of his nine films for which he did not receive at least a share of the writing credit, was somewhat more straightforward — a moody, tortured psychological thriller — but its real trick was to gain him access to studio work and studio budgets. “The Prestige,” a Victorian dueling-magician drama, is a clever bit of prestidigitation, as well as a canny commentary on film and technology (Nolan on digital filmmaking can sound a lot like Ricky Jay on David Copperfield). “Inception” was a heist movie that took place in a series of nested dreamscapes. Nolan’s Batman movies, though basically linear in structure, resonated broadly as shadowy political allegories.

Part of the reason his work has done so well at the box office is that his audience members — and not just his fans, but his critics — find themselves watching his movies twice, or three times, bleary-eyed and shivering in their dusky light, hallucinating wheels within wheels and stopping only to blog about the finer points. These blogs pose questions along the lines of “If the fact that the white van is in free-fall off the bridge in the first dream means that, in the second dream, there’s zero gravity in the hotel, then why is there still normal gravity in the third dream’s Alpine fortress?????

A Game of Shark and Minnows

China and The Philippines at odds over The South China Sea

 

A special report by The New York Times, released in October 2013, about a small group of Filipino soldiers guarding one of the most isolated spots in South China Sea, as it, complicated by geographical, political, historical, and maritime claims, becomes a point of contention for numerous Asian states, including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, and how the troops must endure physical and mental hardships in carrying on what they call ‘a national duty’, in addition to frequent incursions made by Chinese ships.

Enriched with multimedia features – and even visual and sound effects – get the best experience in reading it.

 

Excerpt:

 

China is currently in disputes with several of its neighbors, and the Chinese have become decidedly more willing to wield a heavy stick. There is a growing sense that they have been waiting a long time to flex their muscles and that that time has finally arrived. “Nothing in China happens overnight,” Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the director of Asia-Pacific programs at the United States Institute of Peace, said. “Any move you see was planned and prepared for years, if not more. So obviously this maritime issue is very important to China.”

It is also very important to the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear at a gathering of the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) in Hanoi in July 2010. Clinton declared that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea was a “national interest” of the United States, and that “legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features,” which could be taken to mean that China’s nine-dash line was illegitimate. The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, chafed visibly, left the meeting for an hour and returned only to launch into a long, vituperative speech about the danger of cooperation with outside powers.

President Obama and his representatives have reiterated America’s interest in the region ever since. The Americans pointedly refuse to take sides in the sovereignty disputes. But China’s behavior as it becomes more powerful, along with freedom of navigation and control over South China Sea shipping lanes, will be among the major global political issues of the 21st century. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, of the $5.3 trillion in global trade that transits the South China Sea each year, $1.2 trillion of it touches U.S. ports — and so American foreign policy has begun to shift accordingly.

 

A Paradise of Untouchable Assets

rarotonga

 

Rarotonga, the main island in Cook Islands. Source: Japan Focus

 

The story about a semi-sovereign state, populated in a number barely exceeding 20,000, and hugely dependent on New Zealand, which also serves as an influential, and mostly lawsuit-free, international tax haven.

Read the full story in The New York Times.

 

Excerpt:

 

Win a malpractice suit against your doctor? To collect, you will have to go to the other side of the globe to plead your case again before a Cooks court and under Cooks law. That is a big selling point for those who market Cook trusts to a broad swath of wealthy Americans fearful of getting sued, and some who have been.

“You can have your cake and eat it too,” says Howard D. Rosen, a lawyer in Coral Gables, Fla., who has set up Cook trusts for more than 20 years, in a video on his website. Anyone with more than $1 million in assets, his firm’s site suggests, should consider Cook trusts for self-preservation, but especially real estate developers, health care providers, accountants, architects, corporate directors and parents of teenage drivers.

International regulators have become more aggressive in efforts to clamp down on tax haven countries, offshore banks and their customers, but they have paid scant attention to the Cooks. Yet Americans are the biggest customers of the trusts, which may be held only by foreigners, not Cook Islanders. The islands’ official website calls the Cooks a “prime choice” for “discerning wealthy clients.” There are 2,619 trusts, according to the Cooks’ Financial Supervisory Commission, offering anonymity as well as legal protections. The value of the assets is not disclosed and it is against the law in the Cooks to identify who owns the trusts or to provide any information about them.

Gates Foundation presents: condom contest

condoms-shutterstock_102777923-617x416

 

 

The main point is, Bill Gates doesn’t want you to assume he supports freer sex.

This is the statement from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a new round of winners as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative. GCE grants fund innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems. Winning proposals this round will tackle a wide range of issues including: using social data for social good, the next generation of condom, helping women farmers in the developing world, new interventions for neglected diseases, and bringing together human and animal health for new solutions.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that over 812 different ideas regarding quality improvement for condoms were submitted to this campaign. Imagine if one of these included a curry-scented version.

Clarification: the condom contest itself is actually just one of numerous others held by the foundation, under the umbrella of Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE). You can read the full report here regarding subcategories other than this one.

Examples of new-generation condoms proposed by some scientists are as follow:

  • Benjamin Strutt and a team from Cambridge Design Partnership in the United Kingdom will design a male condom out of a composite material that will provide a universal fit and is designed to gently tighten during intercourse, enhancing sensation and reliability.

  • Willem van Rensburg of Kimbranox Ltd. in South Africa will test a condom applicator, the Rapidom, which is designed for easy, technique-free application of male condoms. Kimbranox will test an applicator designed to be applied with one motion, thereby minimizing interruption.

Infographics: how 5 countries could become 14

future map

Actually, combined with the possible city-states, and one ‘missing’ plenipotentiary, the number could be instead 18.

Sorry, I was instead counting ‘Sunnistan’ as two separate countries – Syria and Iraq.

Source: The New York Times

We own the media. We are the power.

I did not find anything wrong with one of Indonesia’s leading news channels, TvOne, attempting to augment the seraphic side of Aburizal Bakrie. There’s no problem with Mr.Bakrie commanding the editorial board to polish his sexagenarian, triangular-shaped – rather than to say diamond-shaped, as most face-reading experts would accede to – face. There’s even nothing wrong  the TV station was asked to invite experts who prompted advice, indirectly, on how he would win the 2014 presidential election, the time the consensus-making ex-general currently in the ascendancy, President SBY, will have to step down.

I couldn’t understand why, but each time this TV station has intimation with ‘Bakrie’s’ name tagged in, I would always – and I can’t stand to – start smiling. When one of his sons got married with a pin-up,chic actress, the channel had its own William-and-Kate-alike red-letter day. When his mother passed out – it’s ordinary that someone bemoan her pullout from this profane world – it was repeatedly labelled ‘breaking news’, while other channels were actually airing either talk shows, tearjerking no-begin-no-end soap operas, or recidivously-screened out-of-date Hollywood films. Lastly, when Bakrie single-handedly appointed himself as the sole presidential nominee from the long-deposed Golkar party, the party where he served the main chairman (its raj-like cathedra overcast after Soeharto was ousted in 1998 by pro-reform students), while political analysts had repeatedly warned that Golkar’s popularity would even drain severely had he done so.

Firstly, I sympathize (but feel free to question my compliance) regarding to his mother’s dropping-a-cue. But, one thing that questioned me was this: is it a must that the procession be nationally televised, particularly when his reputation is divided into half ‘popular’ and half ‘notorious’, in which the latter tends to outstrip the former? Secondly, given that probably half the Indonesians dislike him, what made him remain so undaunted that he monopolized the nomination process? Is he overtly ambitious for the 2014 seat? Should I answer ‘must be’ or ‘could have been’?  Thirdly, it doesn’t matter if TvOne converts themselves into a publicity team for Bakrie’s fair name (like paying tribute to achiever-molding schools), but please be reminded of some scandals he had himself committed. As of the date this article is posted to my Facebook account (and my WordPress blog), one of his defunct energy companies, PT Minarak Lapindo Jaya, is in arrears approximately worth 900 billion rupiah (note: the 2006 Lapindo disaster, in which hot mud continuously flows out from the drilling fields in Sidoarjo, East Java, until now. Rumor has it that the company’s operating procedures and methods have been exceedingly breakneck, that even most of the energy companies refuse to invest there). At the same time, PT Bakrie Life, a bankrupt insurance company, owes its ex-customers more or less 270 billion rupiah, and it has been unpaid for 3 years. A conspiracy theory is postulated that Bakrie has actually aided Gayus Tambunan’s get-away (note: Gayus is an ex-tax officer currently sentenced for crimes of tax evasion worth more than 70 billion rupiah), had secretly met Gayus in Bali (something he dismissed as a ‘political intrigue’), and that Gayus had amassed 28 billion rupiah from three of Bakrie’s East Kalimantan-based coal mining giants: PT Bumi Resources Tbk., PT.Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), and PT.Arutmin.

 

As far as I know, if you visit Tv One’s website, and search ‘lapindo’ as the keyword, I bet you only attain 24 search results. What if you type ‘bakrie life’ instead? As though a fairy tale, the result is entirely null and void. But what if I type ‘bakrie’ instead? Multiply 18 with 24 search results obtained after typing ‘lapindo’. (in case your math is not good enough, here is the answer: 432)

(One more information: whenever you type ‘Hari Suwandi’ – one of Lapindo’s victims who expresses his dudgeon after garnering no compensation at all by walking non-stop from his hometown to Jakarta on foot to meet President and Bakrie – in the website, you still get quite many search results, but inconsequentially, the references link you to airplane accidents, instead, because many dead pilots reported were named, unfortunately, ‘Suwandi’.)

This makes me wonder. Bakrie has been repeatedly ‘commended’ (by his TV’s newscasters) for his attempts in improving Indonesian education system (he even set up a private university based on his surname) by visiting schools and giving motivational speeches to his students. But has he ever visited perished schools in Sidoarjo? Has he ever asked – and even contemplated – how their living condition looks like?

 

Ah, I just remember. Bakrie’s one is not only the epitome representing the concept of ‘concentration of media ownership’ – the situation where a conglomerate is able to control multiple mass media companies, particularly those of major, either national or worldwide, influence – but also ‘media bias’, when the truth is adjusted to what . But the second example, later, is not that linked to the latter, as I can say.

If TvOne behaves obfuscatorily regarding its boss’ misdeeds, Metro TV does it in reverse: it almost does attempt to subconsciously castigate him – and his political party – everytime cases linked to their names are exposed (like the recent corruption of Koran production in Ministry of Religious Affairs involving a Golkar politician, and a bribery scandal entangling a regent in Central Sulawesi, who also acts as Golkar’s cadre). Or is Surya Paloh, the channel’s founder and owner, trying to avenge him, after the fiasco he faced of not getting elected as Golkar’s main chairman?

I dare not imply that too far, but given quite intensive publicity campaigns, in which news broadcasters often cover his newly-formed party (originally he ‘only’ intended to make it a ‘non-political, civil organization’), Nasional Demokrat’s, abbreviated as Nasdem, events, there is some indication that both individuals are entering the political arena. But, still, both news channels have the similar agenda. They inform the public about government’s wrongdoings. That’s a necessary element of transparency throughout the age of democracy, but just sometimes, as I opine, both channels concentrate themselves too often on bad news rather than good news, as though we were presented with an endless array of politically themed soap operas. 2 years prior, both channels competed en masse in covering the 6.7-trillion-rupiah Bank Century scandal, and intensively tagged ‘Sri Mulyani’ and ‘Boediono’, which ended up with Sri’s resignation as Finance Minister. Last year, public was day-and-night brainwashed regarding Nazaruddin’s globe-trotting runaway period, his SEA Games’ housing project, and largely thanks to the perpetuating cover-up reports by the mass media, particularly both news channels, Partai Demokrat (where Nazaruddin used to serve as the main treasurer) has had its popularity severely jeopardized, with more cadres getting suspected of dozens of corruption scandals scattered in a mecca of projects nationwide. This year, it’s getting even more tense. Having been faced with out-Heroding-Herod anarchism misconducted by the university students during fuel hike protests and per-hourly updated, public’s attention is again headed to the Hambalang Sports City project (originally worth 125 billion rupiah, the costs all of a sudden soared until more than 2.5 trillion, with many key figures of the party suspected of the involvement in the so-called ‘megascandal’). As though unfinished, our minds are again directed to the realm of corruption in the supposedly ‘cleanliest and most sacrosanct’ ministry of all’. And another episode is yet to be aired.

 

“Guys, who do you think are more handsome? The bearded guy beside me or this bony old man?”

 

Ah, how difficult it seems to realize the ‘friction’. Everybody sees the content in it. But I also see intention. It is not merely a competition. It’s a duel, undeniably. Conglomerates need ‘hidden voices’ to transmit the messages that they are – subconsciously, in the mind’s public – reliable.

This helps to explain why most of the time billionaires, just like Bakrie and Paloh, have always been interested in acquiring, say the least, a bit of the mass media industry. Even an infinitesimal, disproportionately small portion is worth enough doing: once you have the mass media in your hands, you have had an invisible, gargantuan ‘mouth’ to control people’s minds. You can let them sympathize on matters you are actually not supposed to. You make people end up oblivious on your misdeeds. And, lastly, but not entirely, it is the most formidable piece of paraphernalia to bring you closer to the ascendance of power, thanks to the ‘indirect’ support of the viewers. Perhaps that’s why Warren Buffett had no regrets when he purchased The Washington Post Group – the owner of three of America’s largest TV stations, ABC, NBC, and CBS – a chain of more than 30 subsidiaries engaged in publishing, magazine, newspaper, radio, and broadcasting sectors. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – a full-fledged battalion of 500 companies – has tens of millions of staunch daily viewers in both United States and United Kingdom, despite the fact he’s an Australian. Even rumor has it that his Fox Channel (as it circulates around the American society, and has been a public secret) serves as the ‘mouthpiece’ of GOP, a party very well-revered by Wall Street, corporate giants, oil & gas pundits, warmongering generals, and fundamentalist, conservative Christians.

Very recently, Gina Rinehart, Australia’s first mining queen, and also currently the world’s richest woman (whose wealth surpasses 30 billion US$, and some experts have even projected her assets may have soared until exceedingly 100 billion US$ in no more than 5 years), has recently acquired Fairfax Group (and sold a few million after protests from Fairfax’s journalists), Australia’s largest media conglomeration to date after News Corp., while at the same time, there were rising concerns about her corporation’s environmental records. What’s more, she refuses to sign the group’s charter of editorial independence and demands that the group alter its understanding of ‘global warming’ as something ‘naturally occurring, not man-made’. What does that indicate? Or more precisely, what else can’t be indicated more, when all she has is that she owns the media, and she is the power?

 

“Fairfax, I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse!”

Still, it won’t ever be a sin when you either crack upon or suppress someone’s mistakes. At least, to my own context.

*********

Want some more factoids? Here they are:

  1. It is Carlos Slim Helu’s right to acquire 6.4% of The New York Times’ shares in NYSE in 2008. That’s why seldom media outlets expose his monopoly on telecommunication industry in Mexico (OECD even lambasts Mexico for circumscribing the most expensive phone credits in the world.)
  2. Like a duplicate of Tv One-Golkar’s harmonious relationship, Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa, has long had (and still has) cordial relationship with the long-deposed PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), a political party known to have been dictators’ (and major oligarchs’) powerhouse for more than half a century, until its dominance ended in 2000.
  3. Newspapers in Hong Kong are so afraid of exposing the ‘bad news’ of Li Ka-shing, the region’s richest tycoon. According to Joe Studwell, as taken from his book ‘Asian Godfathers’, he would order his companies cease advertising on these newspapers once they’re caught sneaking into his ‘darker side’.

 

Learn more about the flaws of media here.